Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW

Three-watt collimated LED headlamp with rear-mount battery pack that misses perfection by just a couple of features.

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by Rick Dreher | 2006-02-28 03:00:00-07

Introduction

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 1

To borrow from author Dan Jenkins, the Petzl MYO XP is almost dead solid perfect. This high-output LED headlamp is very bright and in two innovative triumphs, offers a turbo-like boost mode and an optical diffuser to tame the pencil beam into a soft floodlight. It's very well crafted and likely to last for many seasons of hard use. It's comfortable to wear and offers the option of a removable top bucket strap, all at a fairly reasonable weight. Dead solid perfect status is denied only because the MYO XP lacks current regulation and true waterproofness. So very close.

What's Good

  • Very bright output that's superbright using boost mode
  • Optical diffuser that tames the pencil beam into a soft floodlight, without resorting to auxiliary LEDs
  • Battery life indicator
  • Removable top bucket strap
  • Tiltable lamphead
  • Hideaway power switch
  • Beefy, snag-protected power cable
  • Solid build quality

What's Not So Good

  • No current regulation
  • Not immersible
  • At 6 ounces with batteries, not particularly light

Features and Specifications

  Manufacturer

Petzl

  Year/Model

2005 MYO XP

  Type

Single 3-watt collimated LED headlamp with rear-mount battery pack

  Weight

Measured: 5.9 oz (170 g) with 3 alkaline AA batteries
Manufacturer's specification: 175 g with 3 alkaline AAs

  Batteries

3xAA alkaline, lithium, NiMH cells

  Regulated?

No

  Immersible?

No

  Headstrap

"Bucket"-style with removable topstrap

  Modes

Three intensity levels, plus boost and flash

  Features

Flip-up diffuser lens creates a floodlight
Battery condition indicator helps track remaining illumination time
Lockable power switch and ratcheted tilting lamphead

  Manufacturer's Battery Life Claims

70 / 90 / 170 hours usage in hi/med/low modes

  Manufacturer's Beam Distance Claims

45 /35 / 20 m (148 / 115 / 66 ft) beam range with fresh batteries in hi/med/low modes

  MSRP

$70

Overview

The flood of ever more sophisticated and useful LED headlamps continues, and this is one tide backpackers are happy to swim in. Enter the Petzl MYO XP, Petzl's powerful foray into the all-LED high-output technical headlamp market. It's bright, it's versatile, and it weighs 6 ounces with three AA alkaline batteries.

The MYO XP employs a single, collimated, high-output 3-watt Luxeon LED that throws a bright white pencil beam a long, long way. It has three brightness levels plus flash; in addition, the XP offers a "boost" mode that gives high-intensity light (ranging from 150-200% of high mode in our tests) for a brief period. Another trick in the MYO kit is the floodlight feature. Using a low-tech answer to a high-tech dilemma, the XP is fitted with a flip-up diffuser that broadens the normal pencil beam into a broad floodlight for camp use. Petzl also provides a battery life indicator to track power consumption.

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 2

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 3

The Petzl MYO XP headlamp uses a very effective diffuser lens (right) to tame the hyperbright LED's pencil beam into a soft, broad campsite and reading light.

My measurements show the MYO XP to be the brightest light I've yet tested. With new alkaline batteries, high output was 1,540 lux and boost mode a dazzling 2,900. Particularly effective is the diffuser lens, which tames the hyperbright LED's pencil beam into a soft, broad campsite and reading light. A strictly optical alternative to multi-LED schemes, Petzl clearly has a winning approach with the lens.

The MYO XP also addresses the dilemma of whether to go with a simple or bucket-style headband by making the top strap easily removable. This slender strap provided adequate stability for running and other high-impact nighttime activities.

Design and Construction

Controls and Operation

Two button switches perch atop the MYO XP lamphead. The larger and taller button operates the combination power and mode switch in this sequence: high, medium, low, flash and off. There's no mode memory on power-up so the XP always starts on high. The second button - smaller and shorter - is the boost switch. Boost works independently of the power/mode switch, providing maximum output regardless of what mode the light is in, including off. The boost switch is a press-and-hold affair that puts the XP in boost either until released or it reaches the preset time or heat limit - whichever comes first. Upon reaching the temperature limit, boost is disabled until the lamphead has cooled sufficiently. Petzl specifies a 20-second maximum boost time; I achieved maximums somewhat short of that with fresh batteries, greater than that as the batteries wore (understandable, because heat was no longer an issue). Boost intensity decreases with battery condition.

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 4

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 5

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 6

Two buttons on top of the MYO XP lamphead control power and mode. The smaller button (on the left) is the boost switch. The larger button is the power and mode button. To the right is the battery power meter. (Center photo) The power cord is routed through the hinge pivot ensuring that a snagged cord won't change the lamphead pivot angle.

Lamphead

The ratcheted lamphead adjusts from straight ahead to a downward tilt greater than 45 degrees. It reliably holds the set position. There's not much upward tilt from horizontal, which might be a limitation to some users. As an added feature, rotating the lamphead upward to the maximum amount possible places a locking tab over the power switch. While it's still possible to operate the power and boost switches in this position, doing so accidentally is unlikely. A colored LED on the lamphead's side blinks the batteries' general condition whenever the lamp is running. It's green initially then changes color as the batteries wear, first to yellow-orange then red-orange.

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 7

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 8

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 9

(Left) The pliable rubber battery box cover peels away from the base for access and can be opened with gloves on. (Middle) While correct battery alignment is marked using large +/- symbols molded into the black battery case, they're not as obvious as I'd like, nor are the positive and negative terminals easy to tell apart. (Reversing battery polarity can zap an LED light in short order.) (Right) The thick power cable is stoutly reinforced on either end and has a short coiled section to take up slack and reduce shock to the cable ends should it ever snag in use.

Battery Box and Power Cable

The pliable rubber battery box cover peels away from the base for access; there are no screws or latches and no tools are required. It can be opened while wearing thin-to-medium gloves or mittens, but I needed bare hands to change batteries. The cover is permanently attached and cannot be lost. While correct battery alignment is marked using large +/- symbols molded into the black battery case, they're not as obvious as I'd like, nor are the positive and negative terminals easy to tell apart. (Reversing battery polarity can zap an LED light in short order.) The batteries are held tightly in place to prevent their accidentally falling out. A single clip holds the power cable to the right side of the headstrap. The thick cable is stoutly reinforced on either end and has a short coiled section to take up slack and reduce shock to the cable ends should it ever snag in use. If you do snag it you won't yank the lamphead from the set angle because the cable enters the lamphead through the pivot point. It's the most confidence-inspiring power cable I've seen, and indicative of the MYO XP's meticulous and robust design.

Headstrap

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 10
A familiar bucket headstrap design with a twist, the MYO XP's top strap is half the width of the main strap and is removable.

A familiar bucket headstrap design with a twist, the MYO XP's top strap is half the width of the main strap and is removable. It clips in with slender buckles that don't look up to the task but proved adequately stout in our test; they do require a tool to open, though. The main strap can be removed for washing but doing so requires a rather elaborate unweaving process. It helps to pay attention so that reweaving isn't too painful.

Petzl claims water resistance for the MYO XP and I agree with this assessment. It's clearly not protected against immersion but isn't going to be affected by moderate rain. I also note that because the lamphead is quite recessed to accommodate the diffuser lens, it collects spray and dust and will likely collect snow and ice in wintry conditions, but with the benefit of being very safe from mechanical damage. Ours remains scratch-free.

Performance

With fresh batteries the MYO XP is bright, very bright. In high mode it's the brightest headlamp I've yet tested and in boost mode, it's more than twice as bright as the next brightest - testament to what a 3-watt LED can do. Note that in all modes other than boost, the 3-watt light is "underdriven;" that is, putting out far less light than it's capable of. There are at least three practical reasons for this: 1) At 3 watts considerable heat is generated, requiring an aggressive heatsink to dissipate heat and protect both the LED and the circuitry; 2) battery life would be dramatically reduced and 3) output that intense is seldom, if ever needed by backpackers for extended periods. In practice, the XP's output is similar to that of a 1-watt headlamp until the boost call is placed to the engine room. Then, it melts all comers.

I measured beam intensity and width at all output levels from our standard 2-foot distance, with and without the diffuser lens in place. The bare, collimated LED throws a beam typical of other Luxeon-powered headlights: narrow and very bright white in the beam center, surrounded by a far dimmer halo (beam spill). The diffuser lens broadens the beam into a soft, even and wide floodlight with no hotspot. Of note also, is the light's color quality. Compared side-by-side with a Gerber 3-watt Luxeon flashlight, the XP's beam is a very neutral white versus the flashlight's rather sickly yellow. Flashlight aficionados call this color variation the "Luxeon lottery" and it looks as though our MYO is a winner.

At 2 feet the bare MYO XP beam center is 5-6 inches wide. Flip up the diffuser lens and the beam broadens dramatically to about 2 feet wide - a huge change. The diffuse beam's intensity appears even to the eye but our light meter showed a drop of about 50% from beam center to edge, 1 foot off-axis. Fifty percent may sound dramatic but to the eye it's literally not detectable, because eyes easily compensate for such a minor difference. By contrast, the bare LED beam drop-off at 1 foot is roughly a thousand-fold. This, you see.

MYO XP
Output Intensity (in Lux), measured from 2 feet
BareDiffuser
Center1 ft off-axisCenter1 ft off-axis
High1,560188535
Medium890104824
Low32551710
Boost2,9004018075

Because the MYO XP lacks current management, output doesn't settle into an extended steady period like effectively regulated lights. In high mode the initial dazzling output drops like a rock, losing a third of its intensity in the first hour, dropping to initial medium level at 4 hours and to fifty percent of initial power at 5, so the gaudy maximum lux measurements need to be taken with a grain of salt. High mode never did exhibit a flat output stretch in the 24 hours I ran the test.

Medium mode also drops steadily from the start, but not as precipitously as high mode. It took almost 12 hours to drop fifty percent and over 20 hours to drop to initial low mode equivalent. Perhaps most importantly, from 12 hours onward medium mode outperformed the high mode and took almost 40 hours to drop to the level high was at when I terminated that test (100 lux), yielding an extra 16 hours of use. I let the medium test run on to investigate wringing as much life as I could out of a single battery set. Output seemed to hit a base level of about 50-60 lux and settled there from hours 47 to 60, when I terminated the test. The residual light output was similar to what you'd get from a button cell light with half-used batteries, certainly not light you'd go predawn climbing with but still enough for simple campsite activity.

Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW - 11
Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp run times.

Tests run at room temperature (70-80 degree F) with alkaline batteries from a single batch.

I did some boost mode "snapshots" during the medium mode test to track relative output as the batteries wore. I used medium because our feeling is that nighttime travel is best accommodated by hiking with medium mode (or even low) using boost occasionally as required. I only did a few boost tests, with each only long enough to collect a measurement because I didn't want to measurably impact battery life. There's no question that frequent boost use will noticeably reduce battery life; however, I believe that medium plus occasional boost will far outlast high using no boost. Initially, boost is about three times medium output (2,900 vs. 890). At 12, 16, and 20 hours it's more than double (1,140 vs. 435, 1,040 vs. 380, 850 vs. 335). Once output has dropped much below 200 lux the boost mode didn't visually differ from switching it to high, regardless of the measurements.

Maximum boost duration ranged from about 18 seconds to 22 or so. Boost time seems temperature limited when batteries are fresh and time limited when they're well worn.

Petzl's specs are for the battery meter to change to yellow when batteries are 70 percent drained and red at 90 percent. During our tests the meter stayed on green until output dropped below about 400 lux. I never saw what I'd describe as yellow; it's possible I simply missed it, but the first change from green I've noticed is to orange, then orange slowly becomes reddish over time. Even at a dim 50-lux output it's an orangey red. I'll cautiously call the power meter somewhat useful. Note too that due to battery rebound, after the light's been off for a time even weak batteries will give a period of relatively bright light and the meter can bounce back to green, only to revert to orange in a few minutes. Wait for a while after first turning on the light to gain a fair assessment of battery health.

In the Field

I took the MYO XP on several adventures, both nighttime navigation exercises and backpacking trips. In either role it's a very, very competent headlamp. Banish any lingering thought you may have that incandescent lights still hold a role in the backpacking market - LEDs can now do it all. The XP is bright in a useful way: the light is a natural white and free from distracting artifacts and weird color-fringing. The beam throws a long, long way and there's still enough spill to illuminate off-axis features such as trail blazes. Petzl's "killer app" may be the boost mode, which erases any doubts about what's ahead when needed but allows the light to run at a much lower intensity the vast majority of the time.

As I noted, my favored nighttime navigation mode is to use the MYO XP in medium, occasionally relying on boost to get through sketchy spots. This approach both extends battery life and preserves night vision. The only fly in the ointment is holding the boost switch down to use it, a bother when using trekking poles or, say, navigating a slippery log while stream crossing. Perhaps a single-push timed mode would be better?

The rap against single LED, high-output (1-watt and greater) headlamps is that they lack a truly useful nontechnical light for camp chores and reading. The XP's diffuser puts that concern to rest without resorting to hanging extra low-output LEDs on the lamphead, an approach every maker uses, including Petzl. Those of us who fashion homemade diffusers for our Eos's can only gaze longingly at the broad even beam created by this little flip-up lens. Multi-LED schemes seem excessively complicated and hopelessly archaic in the face of this low-tech but entirely effective tactic.

The MYO XP is comfortable for long stints. It's balanced and the battery pack doesn't dig into the scalp. The little top strap proves up to the task of stabilizing the light in our tests; trail runners shouldn't be put off by its slender profile. Without the top strap the light is still comfortable but will likely slip if you're engaged in a limbo competition around the campfire. Like all headlamps using separate battery packs, the XP isn't too comfortable for reading in bed while lying on your back; however, the rear-mounted batteries stay nice and warm under a hood during cold weather, an important performance consideration.

Batteries, and Realistic Run Times

Three AA batteries provide long life at 69 grams per set for alkalines, 44 grams for lithiums. The weight-conscious will likely compare the XP against less hefty lights that use two AAs or three AAAs; base your decision on whether you can get by with a single set of batteries with the heavier XP so to avoid carrying spares. Use our runtime charts as a rough guideline for projecting your likely use. A predawn wintertime summit bid presents a completely different consumption scenario than a summer's week on a well-established trail.

Petzl's battery life claims seem hopelessly optimistic. While it's true that one can still perform very simple tasks in the faint glimmer of an LED on ninety-percent dead batteries, the notion of performing technical nighttime navigation is a dream, to be generous, once they're that far gone. There's a huge difference between traveling a rocky trail and finding a spork in your backpack.

Assessment

The MYO XP ups the performance bar with the highest output I've yet measured from an LED headlamp. And, the diffuser lens is so effective it renders the competition that combine a Luxeon with two or more 5 mm LEDs moot. Few fair-weather backpackers will need the XP's lighting prowess unless they plan on nighttime off-trail exploration or predawn climbs, but when the weather turns foul and the days shorten this light becomes a very attractive option, at a reasonable 6 ounces. (The Tikka XP headlamp addresses the lightweight crowd by offering a smaller, lighter 1-watt Luxeon-plus-diffuser light that also features boost mode.)

Who's this light for? Many lightweight backpackers will never require the XP's dazzling regular output or boost mode. Anybody who's through-hiked the PCT carrying only a button-cell flashlight would be hard to convince to take along a full-featured high-output headlamp, but for anybody tackling extended after-dark travel, winter camping, predawn climbs, trail running or caving, it's likely that the MYO XP will leap onto your short list.

As I review this XP there's little apparent direct competition except the new Princeton Tex Apex, a heavier and more complex headlamp (but regulated and immersible). As it stands, the 3-watt XP easily outperforms our current favorite Princeton Tec Eos, but at considerably greater weight and cost.

Value

At $70 the MYO XP is an expensive headlamp but given its performance, versatility, cutting-edge 3-watt Luxeon LED and material and build quality, it's priced on par with the competition.

What's Unique

Extraordinarily bright technical light also becomes a very friendly campsite light by using the diffuser lens (no auxiliary LEDs). Boost mode untangles the trickiest of nighttime mysteries. Removable top strap gives users the welcome option of either having the extra support and stability or avoiding the unnecessary annoyance. Battery life indicator reduces guessing about the available remaining light. Coiled power cord eliminates branch-snagging slack and helps protect the connections. Build quality inspires confidence.

Recommendations for Improvement

The MYO XP would benefit greatly from effective current regulation, now pretty much standard in this market segment. A single-push timed boost mode would leave hands free for more important tasks, and no usefulness would be lost if it were programmed so that a second push switched boost off. Slotting the battery box strap guides would make it easier to remove for comfort while reading in bed. Correct battery alignment should be more obvious in dim light and by touch. Battery life indicator colors could be better delineated. I'd also like to see Petzl upgrade the MYO XP to be immersible.


Citation

"Petzl MYO XP LED Headlamp REVIEW," by Rick Dreher. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/petz_myo_xp_led_headlamp_review.html, 2006-02-28 03:00:00-07.

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